News that a mixture of toxic gases has been found in shallow soils on prime farmland at Hopeland, near Chinchilla, has led Lock the Gate Alliance to call for action to suspend both underground coal gasification and coal seam gas (CSG) mining in the region.
The gases detected -in the Western Downs region of Queensland by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection - included carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and hydrogen sulfide.
The gases are explosive and farmers in the Hopeland area have been advised not to excavate or disturb soils greater than two metres deep without talking to the department.
In a statement to the ABC yesterday the department admitted it “cannot rule out an underground fire as the cause”.
"It seems the mobilisation of toxic gases in soils at Hopeland is most likely to have been caused by the Linc Energy underground coal gasification project nearby - a project that is supposed to be in the process of being de-commissioned," said Drew Hutton, President of Lock the Gate Alliance.
"This incident confirms that underground coal gasification is a dirty, polluting industry that should now be permanently banned in Queensland.
"The result of the discovery is an appalling imposition on farmers in the area and a threat to their livelihood.
"Hopeland farmers now simply cannot go about their regular business on the farm safely because if they were to disturb these soils there must be a serious risk of explosion or negative health impacts.
"The Hopeland area and surrounds is also being targeted for coal seam gas mining - an industry which poses similar threats to soil and water.
"Any CSG drilling in the Hopeland area now would be a massive risk to farmland, health and safety - there would be an enormous risk of explosion or mobilisation of these toxic gases.
"We're calling for a statewide, permanent and legal ban on underground coal gasification and an immediately halt to all plans for CSG drilling in and around Hopeland."
People at risk of CSG around Chinchilla met at a symposium on Saturday and vowed to stick together to fight unwelcome drilling. The meeting was addressed by PUP Senator Glenn Lazarus who wants a Royal Commission established into the mining industry and its human impact.
Shay Dougall of the Hopeland Community Sustainability Group said locals had ‘drawn a line in the sand’ following the department’s warning not to excavate.
“The community has had a gutful of the industry and government ignoring its health concerns and property damage,” she said. "Landholders and farmers from the region have joined forces and will fight this invasive mining that is ruining our farmlands, health, water and livelihoods.
"The government and the mining industry have a real battle on their hands with this issue and it's time for more politicians like Queensland Senators Larissa Waters and Glenn Lazarus to stand up for us."